Interview by Amanda McCarroll
I met Sheel when she walked into Buddhi Yoga to take my vinyasa class one Wednesday morning. Her presence and beauty struck me right away and I was very intrigued. It was one of those “I have to be friends with that woman” moments. Since then we have become great friends and we love to take each other’s classes. I had done Kundalini a few times before, but learning and practicing from Sheel was a whole new ball game. Her teachings and this practice have been a huge upgrade for my life in every possible way. We are so lucky to have her La Jolla Kundalini classes at Buddhi Yoga. She is, as they say, the real deal. It was my pleasure to sit down with Sheel, my teacher and sister from another mister, to find out more about the magic of Kundalini Yoga.
You teach Kundalini Yoga. I am often asked “what is that?” Can you give us a little rundown of what exactly Kundalini yoga is?
Sure! Kundalini is a school of yoga that works with the energy points called chakras. We utilize posture, movement, breath, meditation and mantra for the sole purpose of having Spirit Rising up the spine and into your life in order to make the mundane moments of our day magical. Unlike Vinyasa classes, there is no flow, we do poses with movement for 1 to 3 minutes, sometimes longer. We stay in what I call the “zone of uncomfortableness” to crush mental limitations and open a doorway of consciousness that is limitless and in line with our true nature which we call “Sat Nam.”
What drew you to yoga and Kundalini in particular?
I have always been an anxious person. I had a daily mediation practice and regular vinyasa practice for several years that made my anxiety bearable. I just accepted it would be a part of my life, and that was that. My first kundalini class I had an experience that the energy I was creating and sending through my mind and body matched and neutralized the anxiety at a very deep level. After a few minutes into the practice I had this overwhelming sensation that not only was I okay, but everyone and everything was going to be okay. It was an energizing release into another realm of consciousness I had never been able to access. After that, I was hooked.
You are a busy mother of two with a full life. Can you give the other mothers out there some tips on how to make time for your practice and why it’s so important to make it a priority?
Absolutely. The great thing about Kundalini is that even 90 seconds of breathwork can change the frequency of your mind, the chemistry of your body, your next thought and action, and trajectory of your life–bringing it into alignment with more joy and ease. When you think about it like that, how can you not make time?
The other thing is that women are the heart of their homes. So when we practice there is a huge return on that investment of time and energy because everyone we live with gets the full benefit of our practice.
Try this, close your eyes and put the tongue to the roof of your mouth. Notice what this does to the diaphragm. Draw the breath into the low belly, breathing long and light through the nose. Try 3-11 of these a day, preferably outside with your feet touching the earth. Commit to 10 days in a row, put a reminder on your phone. I promise, someone will tell you that you seem different, and more calm, from this simple commitment.
I’ve been to other Kundalini classes where the teacher only plays mantras. I love that you play the beautiful mantra music but throw in more modern tunes as well. You also don’t wear a turban or all white when you teach. Were you nervous to break from these traditions? What made you want to create your own unique style?
No I wasn’t nervous. I was waiting for the right time. I grew up in a traditional Sikh family, and my father and the men in my family wore turbans. I grew up listening to gurbani kirtan (mantra music) on long road trips. However, since I can remember I have always been a seeker of authenticity and joy. Because of that, I could enjoy these cultural experiences without over-identifying with them. My life path has been a journey of soaking in traditions, whether it is Kundalini, Sikhism, Hatha Yoga, etc., and then distilling the truth that keeps me the lane of authenticity and leaving the dogma in the rearview mirror.
It was right after I turned 40 that something began to feel inauthentic when I played certain songs because that is was what has always been done or I had learned to do in a teacher training. Now I research the mantra, figure out which Guru or sage it came from in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, why it is powerful and going to give us a sense of freedom in our cells, and then when I play a mantra I make sure to get the class to a certain frequency so that power of the sound current does what it is supposed to: change the DNA of the practitioner and activate it to a higher dimension of being. Sometimes I just need a good beat to create synchronicity among the 30 trillion cells of each student—pop music and hip hop are pretty powerful at doing this!
As for turbans. I do wear a headwrap when I practice at home and for some of the longer meditations I teach like at the 11th Day Lunar Cycle experiences . The acupressure created by the fabric at the temples and around the cranium makes me feel like I have a container to go deeper into meditations Where I come from, turbans are 20 feet of ironed cloth and the tradition of tying it is a beautiful production that the whole household participates in. It’s very much related to the Sikh identity. I respect people that go to the lengths required to wear beautiful, freshly-pressed turbans, but right now in my life it feels like it would be a costume if I wore one. Plus, I tend to pick pretty physical kriyas, if I wore a turban, it would come flying off in the first few minutes of class.
Speaking of your awesome music, give us your top five songs on your rotation right now for your class.
Gobind Gobind Gobind Sang by Bhai Harjinder Singh Ji
Ride by Lana Del Rey
Tu Hee Tu Sat Kartar by Sidan & Sampuran
Light House by MC Yogi
The Hatenaughts of Melancholia by Finback
Sheel teaches La Jolla Kundalini at Buddhi Yoga every Monday and Saturday at 10-11:15am. You can take classes with her online on her website Kundalini with Sheel. Follow her on instagram to find out about special classes and events with her like the 11th day of the moon meditation this Wednesday at Buddhi Yoga.